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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Joe Girardi has done good job with less-than-stellar lineup

Yankees manager Joe Girardi celebrates a win over

Yankees manager Joe Girardi celebrates a win over the Minnesota Twins. (July 4, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

The Yankees were trailing by a run yesterday in the seventh inning, so Joe Girardi decided to use Travis Hafner as a pinch hitter. The only question: Which bottom-of-the-order batter should Hafner replace?

Luis Cruz? Alberto Gonzalez? Austin Romine?

Girardi chose Gonzalez. But he could have just as easily picked the other two. The Yankees for almost an entire season have had ninth-place talent throughout the batting order.

Hafner doubled, but was stranded in part because Girardi had to keep in Romine and his (at the time) .164 average and his (still only) three RBIs. Romine grounded out, so did Brett Gardner, and the Yankees went on to lose to the Twins, 4-1.

"We had some opportunities," Girardi said. "Not a ton of opportunities."

This is not the way it's supposed to be when you are the manager of the New York Yankees. But it's the way it has been in this injury-bugged year.

Girardi, who is in the final year of his contract, deserves credit for the way he has kept the team afloat. The Yankees are 51-43; they went into the day 1 1/2 games out of the second wild card.

"I think Joe does an exceptional job," general manager Brian Cashman said during the dreary game in a telephone interview. "I think he's doing the same job he's been doing since he's been here. Circumstances always change. Some years you're healthier than others and some years you have more talent. He prepares for the job the same way and he gets the most out of the ability they have from the talent that he's provided. I think consistently he's exceptional."

Is this Girardi's best job as manager? It can't be when you consider that he won the World Series in 2009 with the Yankees and was National League Manager of the Year in 2006 with the Marlins.

But Girardi has been pretty darn good this year, juggling and cutting and pasting. It probably won't be enough to get the Yankees into the playoffs, but it should be enough to earn him an extension after the season.

Contractually, Girardi is as lame a duck as Terry Collins is with the Mets. But you rarely hear about Girardi's status because of the Yankees' policy of letting executives and players finish their deals before talking about new ones (Robinson Cano being a notable exception as the Yankees opened talks early, so far without success).

"We have not approached Joe in any way," Cashman said. "But we certainly look forward to talking to him at the appropriate time. He'll be in a position, if he wants to be here, he'll have that choice."

Girardi deflected a question Saturday about himself by talking about his coaches and how the manager can't hit or pitch. Even at 48, he might be a better option than Romine, who grounded out to end the game.

So Girardi is left to try things like a double steal to break a 1-1 tie in the fourth inning. Would have worked, too, if rookie Zoilo Almonte had stopped between first and second as he was supposed to so Vernon Wells could score before Almonte was tagged out.

"That's probably my fault," Girardi said. "That's a situation where I assumed he understood that he shouldn't get tagged. So I'm going to take the blame."

Blame? No. Credit for doing his best with a lineup far more suited to the penny-pinching Marlins than the behemoth Yankees.

"I wouldn't say he's enjoying the circumstances more," Cashman said. "I think that there's less pressure knowing that you're not running the normal roster out there . . . So I think he's relaxed because he's doing everything, he's still working hard, but he also realizes that the expectations aren't as high from the fans or media perspective because of all the injuries that we have."

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